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Ottawa to give Quebec $750 million for surge in temporary immigrants

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Ottawa says it will give Quebec $750 million to help pay for a surge in temporary immigrants to the province, while committing to process asylum claims more quickly and better distribute would-be refugees across the country.

Federal officials announced the details Monday as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Premier François Legault met in Quebec City in response to the premier's demands that Ottawa reduce the number of temporary immigrants in the province and pay the costs linked to housing and caring for them and their children.

Legault had been asking Ottawa for $1 billion to cover costs incurred from 2021 to 2023. And while the premier received three-quarters of that sum, he still hasn't received a firm number from Trudeau on how many asylum seekers and other temporary immigrants will be cut.

“What is urgent is to substantially and quickly reduce the number of temporary immigrants in Quebec," Legault said. "At least the federal government is telling us they recognize there’s a problem. They even recognize that they have to act quickly in the short term in a significant way. But they refuse to give numbers."

Legault has said the 560,000 temporary immigrants in Quebec — a number the government says has almost doubled in two years — are putting unbearable pressure on social services and threaten the future of the French language. He wants the number of people claiming asylum in the province to be cut in half.

Speaking to reporters in a separate news conference, Trudeau said that before he commits to a specific number, he needs a plan from Legault.

"Quebec has direct or indirect control over more than half of temporary immigrants in Quebec," Trudeau said. "So to have targets to reduce immigration, if that’s what Quebec wants, they have to present a plan to reduce or to adjust their numbers to respond to their needs. That’s what I asked Mr. Legault.”

He cautioned against blaming immigration for housing shortages and the strain on social services.

“I think that we see across the country there are a lot of challenges regarding social services, housing, health care, for which immigrants can’t receive all the blame," Trudeau said. "Canadians know well that it’s not always the best thing to target, and say everything is the fault of immigrants. It’s something some people use in their arguments, but it’s always more complex than that."

In addition to the $750-million payment, Ottawa is committing to treat claims by asylum seekers more quickly and to work with other provinces to redistribute would-be refugees across the country, federal documents show.

According to the Quebec Immigration Department, since 2017, the province has welcomed more than 230,000 asylum seekers, representing 50.7 per cent of all would-be refugees who have arrived in Canada, while Quebec only accounts for 22 per cent of Canada's population.

According to documents distributed by federal officials, Ottawa's goal is to treat at least 20 per cent of asylum claims within nine months; the current average time it takes to process cases is about 18 months.

Ottawa is also pledging to "improve the integrity" of the country's visa system and to ensure more temporary foreign workers know how to speak French. The government says it is aiming by October to issue work permits to asylum seekers within 30 days of their arrival, when it currently takes more than 100 days.

“We proposed faster processing of asylum claims, transferring people to other provinces, to improve the visa system and to increase the speed of removals for those whose claims are not successful," Trudeau said. "These are all the elements we’re already working on to relieve the pressure on Quebec a little bit.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 10, 2024. 

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